This past week, during the G3 Conference, I was asked a question that we should not overlook too quickly. I was asked, “What catalysts do you believe have led to the resurgence of sound biblical theology?” That question could be answered in several different ways from a variety of different angles, but I believe one of the key factors that has led to this resurgence, especially among young people, is the boom of information technology.
The Technology of the Past
During the era of Martin Luther, there was no such thing as social media (as we know it today). There was no Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or Pinterest. Most written communication had to be done by hand. However, just as the Reformation sparked in Germany, the wave of Gutenberg’s printing press had taken off and was poised to print and distribute the works of the Reformers far and wide. As we look back at history, it’s almost like it was charted out and planned to happen that way. As we consider the sovereignty of God and His providence that governs the world—it’s clear that God was designing the pages of history.
Not only did students of Luther have his Ninety-Five Theses printed and distributed, but following Luther’s conversion a short time later, his books would be printed and spread all across Europe. What was not possible just a short time earlier was now driving the Reformation. Gutenberg’s press was serving as the vehicle of the Reformation. The flame was spreading and Gutenberg’s press was the catalyst.
The Technology of the Present
As we look at the modern resurgence of biblical theology, a high view of God, and a robust understanding of sovereign grace, in many ways the new advancements of information technology are being harnessed to spread the truth across the world. Many hours would go into the printing of a sermon, a tract, or a book in Luther’s day. It would be written down on paper by hand and then a printer would set the moveable type of a printing press in place, and with detailed precision, the ink would be stamped onto each page in order to compile a book. After further advancements, the press would become more efficient, but the process still took precious time. Then, after the printing phase ended, the distribution phase started. There was no UPS or FedEx in those days.
Today, an author can write an article and within a few minutes, he can publish it to the entire world by pressing one single button on a blog site. With the advancements of the printing industry, the publishing and distribution phases move at rapid pace in comparison to Luther’s day. We have moved quickly past the radio era into a new phase of technology that allows the end user the option of not only listening live, but also prerecorded media. What was not possible in the radio era is now possible in our video era as sermons can now be streamed through smart devices in video format. Modern technology, in many ways, has been used as a catalyst to spread truth and teach good biblical theology.
As we consider how primitive technology was in Luther’s day and how limited we were just 50 years ago, we should praise God for the tools and advancements that are available to us now. In many ways, our sanctification can benefit from the use of these technological advancements. In Luther’s day they were fighting to get the Bible printed for the people in their own language. Today, we can press a button on a screen and parse verbs in the original language with Logos Bible Software, read commentaries, and listen to sermons related to the verses we’re studying.
As we consider these modern tools and advancements, let us with glad hearts be good stewards of God’s blessings.
We enjoy technology on a daily basis. In fact, we are enjoying it now through the Internet by means of this blog. However, I’ve noticed that many times technology can create problems rather than delivering solutions. Technology and the church have a love-hate relationship. For information, technology is a good thing, but for community, it often isolates us and limits real relationships.
We have a class at our church for prospective members which is four weeks long and provides a presentation of the gospel and an overview of our distinct marks as a church. Each time the class rolls around, I begin class #2 on the church by talking about technology and the church.
I typically begin by asking how many people remember the old TV show – The Brady Bunch? This is a question that typically reveals ages fairly quickly. However, even the younger generation has often seen an old rerun on TV Land at some point. The show begins with a mixed family all appearing in little screens (boxes) on one big screen and while the theme song is being played, they are waving, conversing, and communicating with one another. As I point out – this was long before the boom of technology and the modern invention of Skype and FaceTime. What they were unable to do in reality – we enjoy in our present day.
The same thing is true regarding the old cartoon – The Jetsons. Although we are not able to fly around in our personalized spacecraft, we can talk to one another through computer screens and personal mobile phones. Who doesn’t love that type of technology? When we take trips away from our family members, we can see them and talk to them while being across the ocean. This is fascinating technology.
We live in a time in church history where steeples are being replaced with iPads and the presence of the preaching pastor is replaced by an image on a screen. The digital revolution has come and we continue to see the expansion of new ideas and methods that are largely influenced and updated by technology. However, as we think honestly and critically about the church, we can see that technology has many limitations.
The Limitation of Physical Presence
Some churches are going the e-church route with Internet campuses, websites, smart phone applications, and live stream preaching technologies that provide them the opportunities of being more mobile and less committed to a physical campus. I do think it’s important to disconnect the church from the building, but in a real sense, a physical presence is necessary in order for a church to exist.
In the pages of the early church, we see that the people gathered together. In fact, if you look at Acts 2, you will notice the word “together” is often repeated in the description of the newly founded church. Two times it’s used before the salvation of the 3,000 souls and two times it’s used after the explosion of growth. The point is clear – they made it a point to be together. In fact, they wanted to be together.
The Limitation of Personal Touch
When I travel for ministry, I often find my family and I gathered together on a screen. However, no matter how many conversations we have in the FaceTime world of technology with the ability to blow kisses, see facial expressions, and talk to one another while smiling at one another – there is something special about being in the presence of each other at the airport. My children often run and embrace me with my youngest clinging to my leg and hugging me. What technology could do in providing the physical sight of my family, it failed to provide personal touch.
We have a young couple who is presently going through our membership class who have recently moved here from Spain. We’ve had discussions about the proper way of greeting in Spain within their church being a kiss on both sides of the cheek. They have explained how hard it has been to transition away from that personal touch and embrace with fellow Christians in their new church culture in the United States. Personal touch matters. In Romans 16:16, we see Paul write these words, “Greet one another with a holykiss. All the churches of Christ greet you.” He repeats these same words in 1 Corinthians 16:20, 2 Corinthians 13:12, and 1 Thessalonians 5:26. The point is clear – the early church greeted one another and there was a physical presence and personal touch among the people. This was a means of encouragement to one another in the midst of difficult times, a harsh culture, and an often unforgiving world.
The Limitation of Actual Community
In Hebrews 10, we see the important warning about neglecting to assemble together with the church. Community is important. If you look at Hebrews 10:24-25, you notice that the purpose of assembly was far more than filling a seat in the worship service. It involved stirring one another up in good works and encouraging one another. This takes place through physical presence in assembly and personal touch in greeting as well as intimate prayers, preaching, and other aspects of assembly.
In a real sense, we can gather as a church in the world of technology. Our presence can be visible through the online digitized representation of our physical body. We can use technology to talk to one another through the screen. We can assemble and hear a sermon preached through the lens of an iPad. We can have online giving setup and contribute to one account that will be used for operating costs of our ministry and missions. We can pray together. Much of what we do as a church can be accomplished through technology, but at the end of the day, there will be massive limitations.
As I teach the membership class, I like to propose the following question:
As you can see, we are sitting in one of the oldest parts of our church campus. We are a 173 year old church and we have a campus that is pieced together with buildings from different eras. Maintaining a church campus is not for wimps – especially an older campus. Last year we spent $70,000 on HVAC upgrades. There is constantly a need that arises from parking lot holes to paint on the walls and it can be quite costly. What if we all decided to liquidate our assets as a church and bank a few million dollars and transition our ministry into an e-church where we meet online? What if we meet online and do everything we typically do on a Sunday and Wednesday, and then meet once per month in a local school gymnasium for worship, the observance of the ordinances, and a fellowship meal – would this be sufficient? Think about how we could use the money for missions and church planting. What do you think?
Not one time have I had someone who actually took the bait and went with the idea. Everyone, no matter what age and how tech savvy they are, they see the holes in technology. They sense a need for real community. They understand the limitations of technology and the church assembly and fellowship. Just last week when I posed that question in our membership class, one of the men going through the class said the following:
My vote for an online campus is no. I’ve been responsible for launching them and know that it is an easy way for people to halfway go to church. They don’t engage and get to actually have human interaction. I’ve actually grown to despise many things that technology brings to a worship service. It easily becomes all about the tech and “what can we do?”
While we can continue to use technology within the church for the glory of God, we must be willing to admit that technology comes with a definite set of limitations. Although the world of technology will continue to expand and broaden into the future, we will never see a day where technology replaces the personal touch, presence, and interaction of a group of redeemed sinners assembling for worship and fellowship.
Dr. Russell Moore addresses the issue of technology and children. He concludes his article by saying, “Technology is good. Turning our children over to the cyber-wilderness is not.” You can read his full article here.
If you like your ESV app on your iPhone or iPad, you will enjoy the new version. It has increased functionality and an updated visual presentation that provides efficient reading. Crossway announced last week that it was available, and if you are not using the ESV Bible app, you should look into it here.
We live in a complex world surrounded by cell towers that provide high speed Internet access to super fast handheld computers that look and operate like a phone. According to a PewResearch study, “Some 73% of online adults now use a social networking site of some kind.” The age of social media has consumed us. At times, the social media culture benefits us. Too often this technological world constrains us.
When was the last time you had to literally stop talking because the people in the room were in another room (or world depending on how you view it) through their phone? Some people are taking strides to overcome such challenges. Baskets are appearing at the door where party hosts are requesting that you drop off your smart phone upon arrival in order to stay engaged in real conversations during your time in their home. Some business owners are requesting that you disengage the tech world during their business hours and meeting times in order to stay on track and remain efficient.
As we unravel the complexities of the technology world, one thing is abundantly clear – Facebook cannot replace your church. Although Facebook and other social media outlets provide a point of connection for friends and family, Facebook is unable to become a replacement tool for the local church.
Peter preached his famous sermon, about 3,000 souls were saved. God’s church was founded, established, and was experiencing rapid growth. Acts 2:42-47 gives us a glimpse into the practices of the early church:
And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.  And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles.  And all who believed were together and had all things in common.  And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.  And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts,  praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved (ESV).
As we read about the interaction of the early church in the New Testament, we see a common “togetherness” that permeated the church. They were together for worship and for fellowship. They enjoyed time together. They spent time together. They prayed together. They shared meals together. They were a together people.
Facebook Lacks Genuine Connectivity
We pride ourselves on being a connected culture through social media and Internet advancement. However, the question remains – are we really that connected? There are 152 million active users of Facebook in the US and Canada. Facebook users spend about 21 minutes of each day on the social media site. With all of this time spent on social media websites, why do so many people feel disconnected in life and the church?
When you first login to Facebook, you can be overwhelmed with faces that you haven’t seen since high school. Facebook offers you a point of connectivity to rekindle old friendships and stay connected with distant family members. However, after a season of using Facebook, you may find that you really don’t connect with the people through the screen. Sifting through a list of typed status updates and instant messages beneath profile pictures is simply not enough.
The church is more than a campus or a building. If you’ve been a follower of Christ for any length of time, you certainly have come to realize that the church consists of the people. People in our world are longing for real depth and personal intimacy in their relationships, and this is certainly true within the church. Facebook may allow you to see a person’s chosen image, but it lacks a realness that transcends status updates and profile pictures. Most people don’t want their intimate life placed on display through social media, so an obvious barrier prevents depth in Facebook friendships.
The church is a group of people who have been brought together by Jesus Christ. The church assembles together for worship. The church lives life together away from the church campus. Therefore, assembling together for worship and fellowship outside of the weekly gatherings is essential for the health and vitality of relationships. This will not happen through the world of Facebook. Status updates cannot replace late night conversations over coffee.
It’s “normal” to be connected to someone through Facebook while remaining extremely disconnected from them in reality. It’s time to stop using Facebook to replace the genuine connectivity that God intends for His church to experience together. Facebook can be useful for evangelism, marketing, or outreach in general, but it lacks in building genuine community.
Facebook Lacks the Reality of Prayer Support
I rarely post prayer requests on Facebook. There is a reason for that. It’s really quite simple. Facebook isn’t my church. I have posted updates and prayer requests on Facebook, but that’s merely a means to get a more broad group of Christian friends to pray. I did this when my daughter was hospitalized earlier this year with her diabetes diagnosis. However, on a regular basis, I communicate my prayer needs and requests to my church. Facebook is a means of collecting and sharing information, but real prayer is done with my church family.
I often read status updates where people post information and I see statements in response that read, “prayers going up now….” I’m really not trying to be cynical, but I often ask myself how much real prayer is being offered up through Facebook? We are really good at saying, “I’m praying for you” when in reality we aren’t praying at all.
Facebook has literally thousands of prayer related pages and online communities. In fact, the “Prayer” page on Facebook has over 1.4 million likes. It’s highly probable that many people who are members in your church but rarely attend the prayer meeting are among that 1.4 million people who “like” and visit the prayer page on Facebook.
Facebook lacks a real voice behind the prayers. Facebook cannot replace a group of people gathered together during a mid-week prayer service weeping over an unrepentant brother. Facebook cannot provide an intimate prayer circle of real friends who are helping you with substance abuse or porn addiction. Facebook can provide you with information. You can provide people with information. However, God designed His church to be together rather than connected through screens.
Before you leave the church for Facebook, I would encourage you to think about leaving Facebook for the church.
Last week, I published a review of Tim Challies’ new book, The Next Story. Today, I would like to provide the second part of that review which covers the second half of his book. As I begin, I would like to encourage you to read the book for the following reasons: (1) The book is well researched and provides great stats regarding the information explosion. (2) The book looks at technology from a redemptive standpoint. (3) The book causes you to examine your own use of technology in our tech savvy age!
Today, we will look at Part 2 of Tim’s book which includes:
Speaking, Truthing, Loving, Living (Communication)
Life in the Real World (Mediation / Identity)
Turn Off and Tune In (Distraction)
Aside: Your Family and Media
More is Better (Information)
Here Comes Everybody (Truth / Authority)
Seeing and Being Seen (Visibility and Privacy)
To begin, I would like to make a general review regarding the book and the subject matter that Tim tackles. In order to prevent this post from being too long and not well read, I will not break down each chapter with a full summary. However, I will include a chapter by chapter notable quote section following my review summary.
Speaking, Truthing, Loving, Living (Communication)
This chapter begins with a great illustration about John Newton and the slave trade. Tim compares the freedom and captivity of sin on the high seas to the lack of accountability and visibility of internet travel. He moves on to discuss the constant change of communication. Tim rightly points out that our communication has drifted from the face to face to the screen of computers and phones.
Notable quotes from chapter 4:
“Today, in our digital world, we spend much of our lives beyond Gibraltar, beyond accountability through visibility, able to say and do and look at and enjoy whatever our hearts desire. yet, for all the freedom it brings us, it can also bring us captivity” (82).
“New Calvinism is a reaction to the church growth movement that became popular late in the twentieth century and is marked by increased emphasis on expositional preaching, biblical faithfulness, and Calvinistic theology” (85).
“Today many of us update our Facebook status and Twitter streams with near-religious fervor, almost as if we have not actually experienced anything until we’ve told others about it” (86).
Life in the Real World (Mediation / Identity)
This chapter begins with a question. Tim asks us to remember where we were and who we were with when we heard that America was under attack on September 11th 2001. He points out that in a powerful sense, as we watched the horrific events unfold, we actually experienced the attacks in a real sense by our participation through the television or internet. The point that Tim makes in this chapter is that our lives are experienced through media after the digital explosion and technological advancement.
Notable quotes from chapter 5:
“Our lives have become saturated with sounds and images flashing in front of our eyes, blaring into our ears” (111).
“Never before in human history have people lived their lives so thoroughly and consistently mediated as we do today” (114).
“The best relationships we can have are not those that rely on mediation, but rather the ones that allow for unmediated contact and communication” (115).
Turn Off and Tune In (Distraction)
Tim begins this chapter with an interesting overview of the “Beeeeep.” He uses this one word to springboard into the subject of distraction. Often our technology is unprofitable and rather distracting to our progress and communication abilities. Digital living, as Tim calls it, is a much faster life. We must be careful to evaluate our lives and make sure we are in control of our technology.
Notable quotes from chapter 6:
“While staying at the cabin in the woods of Virginia, I was able to clearly see the level of distraction in my life, the distraction of digital living” (149).
“Eventually the problem of distraction becomes more than something that just happens to us; it defines our identity. We become distracted people” (149).
“Not surprisingly, the digital explosion has radically altered our sense of time and space, changing and shaping us along the way” (155).
Aside: Your Family and Media
The Aside begins with Tim pointing out that parents don’t put their child in the driver’s seat without first showing him how to drive and evaluating his abilities first. He points out that if we intend to teach our children how to use technology well, we must do the same thing! He points out seven steps to consider when it comes to introducing new media or technology to your family.
More is Better (Information)
The chapter begins with the discovery of a psychiatrist and long time member at Harvard Medical School, Dr. Edward Hallowell. According to Tim, Hallowell is a world renowned doctor who specializes in ADHD study and treatment. It was Hallowell who discovered another disorder that he termed, ADT. ADT is attention deficit trait. This is a result of our obsession with information and a desire to surround ourselves with more information. Through this chapter, Tim evaluates the need for information and how “more” information can actually be harmful.
Notable quotes from chapter 7:
“In an entire lifetime, they (the people of biblical times) would encounter less information than you or I can store in our mobile phones” (185).
“We know why cell phone usage leads to a higher incidence of traffic accidents-we simply cannot deal adequately with all of the information at once” (189).
“Information is at our fingertips all the time. We access it habitually, constantly” (192).
“We are increasingly moving knowledge to the ‘cloud’ and relying on knowledge that exists in the ‘cloud.’ The cloud, of course, is that sum of data and information that exists ‘out there.’ When you need to know what is in that bottle of pills you left in the closet and type its name into Google, you are accessing the cloud….It trains us in the skill of accessing information instead of teaching us what is really valuable to know and understand” (194).
Here Comes Everybody (Truth / Authority)
In this chapter, the subject of truth and authority are the centerpiece. Tim begins with a story about how he really wanted a complete set of the Britannica encyclopedias as a child. He recalls that each year a salesman would knock on the door and give his sales pitch about how it was the best and most comprehensive trustworthy encyclopedia source on the market. Tim uses that story to show how far we have come in such a short period of time. In 2001, Wikipedia was introduced by Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger. Unlike traditional encyclopedias that employ trusted editors and professionals, this online encyclopedia is an open public source that is written and edited by the general public. The point is clearly made by Tim, how do we know it something is truth and how can we find authority in that type of open source of digital information?
Notable quotes from chapter 8:
“Of course, an encyclopedia is only as good as the accuracy of the information it contains, and there have been many debates about the accuracy of the traditional model verses the wiki model” (209).
“Our understandings of truth and authority are changing in this digital world. And as we will see, Wikipedia serves as a microcosm of that kind of change” (210).
Speaking of the Wiki model of encyclopedia – “It ignores human nature. The wiki model inherently assumes that humans are generally good and that they will work together to achieve the greatest good for the greatest number. This ignores what the Bible tells us, that as sinful humans we are predominately selfish, looking out for our own good ahead of the good of others” (217).
Seeing and Being Seen (Visibility and Privacy)
Tim begins this final chapter by comparing the contrails (the trails left behind the jet planes in the sky) to the trails that we leave behind us on the internet. The final chapter of Tim’s book is a much needed reality check. When we consider the amount of pictures and personal data that we have floating around on the internet – especially through Facebook and other social media sites – we should be extremely careful of abuse that could come through predators.
Notable quotes from chapter 9:
“Gone are the days when our photographs were found in albums on the coffee table, when our thoughts were recorded in diaries stashed in a bedside table” (238).
“Time may well show that one of the digital worlds greatest effects on human beings has been to depersonalize us, to tear away our humanity in a favor of 1’s and 0’s-to make us little more than their data” (242).
“Extreme Makeover: Home Edition is just one of many shows that exploit people for the purpose of our entertainment, just one part of a wider phenomenon in our culture” (251).
Tim’s book addresses technology from a biblical theology. Therefore, within the pages of his book, you will find great information on technology and the digital explosion, but you will also find a warning to guard true communication from the dehumanization effect of our digital revolution. I highly recommend this book to both church leaders and laypeople. This is a great resource for every library! Tim hit a home run with this book – it has caused me to examine my use of technology in my own personal life. A much needed examination indeed.